One of our community's most precious resources is our children, but much of their potential is going unrealized. Poverty and the social ills that accompany it conspire to rob many of them of the gift of each new generation. Locally, we can do little to affect the ills of the nation, but we do have the ability to dramatically impact the quality of children's lives in our own community.
As citizens, we want our community to be a place where all young people are valued. We understand the intrinsic quality of our community is often measured by the degree to which we ensure all children have the opportunity to thrive and reach their full potential. It is critical we apply our resources in ways that will support the well-being of our youths. That is why the Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way is launching a new program called YouthNet.
YouthNet will provide leadership, knowledge, coordination and resources to promote the positive development of youths so they can reach their full potential as future citizens, parents, employees, civic and business leaders. Our community has many organizations and agencies doing yeoman's work to meet the needs of disadvantaged youths and families. By partnering with our schools and these organizations and serving as a hub to connect kids with learning and development opportunities, YouthNet hopes to bring solutions to pressing challenges in the lives of our youths. We know our community has the resources. Now we just need the will and the way. By connecting youths to the resources, programs and services available to them, we can nurture a community of engaged youths who are increasingly aware of their capacity for excellence.
National research indicates that poverty and its associated social ills including broken families, substance abuse, crime, physical abuse, illiteracy, depression, loneliness, teen pregnancy, and lack of hope are becoming all too common experiences for many youths. Our response to the exponentially growing needs of youths will impact our community's future. We know this is a social issue. It is also an economic development issue because the quality of our future labor force will be based on our ability to help our young people grow and develop into productive citizens.
Many kids in our community today are growing up in single parent homes that are in poverty or close to it. In fact, Webster County ranks higher than state averages for single parent families and the financial challenges they face every day. In Fort Dodge and Webster County, our challenging economy has put many families and youths under serious financial stress. Research by the Child and Family Policy Center in Des Moines indicates that close to one in five children in Fort Dodge and Webster County now live in poverty. One in seven are food insecure, meaning they are under nourished and often go to bed at night hungry. This data also indicates that close to 50 percent of youths in our schools qualify for free or reduced lunches. Many of these youths wake up every morning and go to school just trying to do their best to get by. They certainly aren't in a good mental state of mind for learning.
Today, we know that it takes more than new books, notebooks and computers to assure that our kids have the right tools to succeed in school. Teachers and school counselors tell us that one of the most important factors for educational success is kids coming to school healthy and ready to learn. When they don't, their ability to achieve academically is greatly diminished. Helping our youths get access to the care and services they need can be the difference between a child achieving in school and one that falls behind and struggles for years.
YouthNet supports organizations and agencies that provide critical services for youths.
Kids Care Fund - Helps youths in low-income, uninsured families gain access to health-related services by providing financial support to cover co-pay costs and other costs for medical, dental, mental health and eye care services.
Wheels for Health - Funds are used to help disadvantaged families who have a child with cancer or other life threatening conditions cover travel costs to Iowa City so their child can receive critical medical services through the Iowa Cares program.
Education - Funds are used to provide support for after-school programs that provide youths with safe, supervised enrichment programs including mentoring, homework assistance, crafts and recreation.
Positive Youth Support - Funds provides financial assistance to low-income youths so they can participate in recreational and leadership, youth asset, character building and enrichment programs.
Adolescent Mental Health - Depression is the most common mental health disorder among teens that can have a long-term and serious impact on their lives. YouthNet will connect youths who are suffering from depression with mental health physicians and counselors that can help them address their depression, so they can lead full and productive lives.
Beds for Kids - YouthNet will provide donated beds for children that are sleeping on a floor every night because their family doesn't a have bed for them to sleep in.
Emergency Support - Provides emergency financial assistance to help children have access to life's most basic necessities including food, shelter, clothing, etc.
Youth Enrichment - Reading Enrichment, Arts, Music, Dance -Funds are used to support programs that engage youths in healthy, stimulating and creative activities can help them enhance socialization, build self esteem and foster a sense of personal fulfillment. These enrichment programs are focused on art and crafts, performing arts, recreation, environment appreciation, reading, writing and math, technology, photography, etc.
Source: Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way
National studies on poverty show the most proven way for youths in poverty-stricken homes to break the cycle of poverty is through education. These studies indicate that three-fourths of all disadvantaged youths perform at the lowest levels of literacy (reading and writing) as defined by the National Adult Literacy Survey. Low levels of literacy result in lower wages and higher unemployment rates. Not having appropriate literacy skills usually makes it impossible for an individual to break out of the intergenerational cycle of poverty. In simple terms, without a good education, disadvantaged children will remain trapped in poverty.
YouthNet is designed to help children thrive academically and developmentally. By connecting youths with programs and services that will help them reach their full potential, they will have a chance to break the cycle of poverty and become productive and successful young adults and future citizens. YouthNet is dedicated to ensuring the best possible future for our youths by promoting positive choices and behaviors and helping youths get access to available services and resources. Working with a coalition of organizations, agencies, services and programs, we hope to build a synergistic network that effectively connects youths to opportunities that will provide them with personal enrichment and the chance to grow and develop in a positive and healthy way. By doing so, we believe our youths will have a fair chance at pursuing their goals and be able to dream of a future full of hope.
The Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way is raising funds to support the YouthNet initiative. Funds will be used to ensure that all youths are able to access the programs and services they need. Citizens who have an interest in volunteering or making a donation to support YouthNet can contact the Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said "We cannot always build the future for our youths, but we must build our youths for the future." We hope you will join us and help us do just that - help us build our youths for the future.
For more information contact the Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way, 822 Central Ave., Suite 405, Fort Dodge, IA 50501 or by telephone at 573-3179 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Randy Kuhlman is chief executive officer of the Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way.